Outcry stops building in ‘world’s largest greenbelt’ around Toronto

Canada’s Ontario province on Thursday scrapped plans to build on protected lands that ring Toronto after a huge backlash that saw two ministers resign over windfall deals for developers.

The horseshoe-shaped 810,000-hectare ring of fertile farmlands, forests and wetlands edge Toronto and nearby cities that hug the north and west shores of Lake Ontario — the most densely populated and industrialized region of Canada.

A mix of private and public lands, they have been protected since 2005 in an effort to limit urban sprawl.

But Ontario Premier Doug Ford, citing a desperate need to build homes for a burgeoning population, last year opened up 3,000 hectares for new housing in the area conservationists describe as the world’s largest greenbelt.

Backpedaling on Thursday, Ford told a news conference the plan was a mistake.

“We moved too quickly and we made the wrong decision,” he said, adding that his Tory government will be “reversing the changes we made and won’t make any changes to the greenbelt in the future.”

Ford had come under fire in recent months after Ontario’s auditor general concluded that the land selection process was flawed and favoured a handful of connected developers who stood to reap billions of dollars from the land swap.

Opponents of development in the greenbelt had also pointed to an Ontario government report that found there is sufficient land available outside the greenbelt to achieve its housing objective.

Two of Ford’s ministers resigned in disgrace in recent weeks while the Ontario premier — arguably the most popular Tory leader in the country — saw his popularity plunge to below 30 percent from over 60 percent amid the public outcry.

In August federal police started sniffing around for possible criminal wrongdoing, but have not announced a formal investigation into the now-defunct greenbelt land deals. (AFP)